An Interview with Michael Gira
by - Tom Gilbert
After the release of Angels of Light's We Are Him, review can be found
here, I had a chance to get a few questions in with the legendary Michael
Gira. From his work with sonic pioneers Swans, Angels of Light, and
his label Young God Records he has been influential artist helping to
shape the musical landscape.
Thank you for taking the time out to do this interview.
Thanks to you, much appreciated
I know with earlier Angels of Light albums you
would write the songs with an acoustic guitar and then flesh them out.
What was the writing process for We Are Him, was it similar?
All the songs are always written on acoustic guitar
and need to be in a state where I could confidently perform them in a room
full of sullen housewives, bankers, and moronic indie kids before I start working
‘em up with other musicians.
I've always been curious about your inspiration for songs. What is the source
for some of your songs like “Black River Song” or “Good Bye Mary Lou”?
"Black River Song" sprang immediately to mind while reading a few lines from
Coleridge’s Kubla Khan. Probably in his case it was a metaphor for the
universal unconscious/subconscious mind – not to get too Joseph Campbell about
it here. I thought instead of the river being thick chocolate or blood pudding.
…well, "Good Bye Mary Lou" came out real easy because I was thinking of all
the horrible women that had wronged me and it’s a revenge/fuck you song to
all of them compiled into one creature. It’s kind of puerile when you think
about it, but as anyone that knows me could tell you, even at my age I sometimes
still act like a petulant teenager.
Will you be touring in support of We Are
I’ll be touring sporadically throughout the coming year. Incongruously
(but should be interesting for that reason) I’m opening for the Boredoms solo/acoustic
beginning mid October in Europe.
Early spring of next year I’ll be doing extensive touring with Fire On Fire
and Larkin Grimm. Both have just signed to Young God. FOF are a fierce acoustic
group that play something like chugging backwoods old timey psychedelic stomps,
like the Mamas and Pappas with mud on their faces. Larkin is a wild itinerant
self-styled She-Shaman with an incredible voice and range. FOF will be the
backing band for her coming album, too. They all might join me for a few songs
on my set on this tour, but mostly I’ll be solo….
With the extensive list of guests on this release, who will be playing the
shows with you?
Oh no, I have made a commitment to myself to perform solo exclusively for the
foreseeable future. From what I hear it’s very strong anyway like that, maybe
more visceral than with several musicians on stage. I look at it like boxing,
where I smash myself in the face for the benefit of the audience. In any event,
it’s not “folk” by any means!
I remember reading in an earlier interview with you (after the release of
Sing 'Other People') that you planned
to only do one more album with Akron/Family and then you would try something
else. Is this still the plan?
Yes, that’s certain. It has nothing to do with their merit as musicians however,
or any personality problems or anything like that. I just think it’s important
that I vary the core group of musicians I work with the work out the songs. I’m
not sure, but I think the next record is going to be extremely “heavy.” But I
don’t know for sure, I always change my mind. Could be it’ll end up a straight
ahead bluegrass record.
Being based out of New York, what do you think brings the earthier elements
into your work? I've noticed this from a number of Brooklyn bands specifically.
It's something that I can't fully grasp living in an urban environment all
of my life.
I’ve lived in an urban environment all my life too. In my case, after Swans,
I just wanted to do something more elemental…. Maybe the general impetus is a
sort of punk rock reaction (not the style of punk, but a similar impetus) to
just how insipid most music has become, and it’s an attempt to get to the core
of performing a song… but what the fuck do I know????
Do you think comes with maturity, that you are able to take the dark elements
of your music and work them into a much subtler sound then say with your earlier
work, where it was much more obvious and in your face?
I have a hard time understanding the difference between “dark” and “light”
personally. There’s lots of joy in my music, always has been, and I really
loathe being portrayed in the press as some sort of morose doom-meister. Fuck
that. Anyway, the music’s not stupid, and it’s not fluffy… I guess I just try
to make it an intensely felt experience… so I don’t know how to answer the
question. I really just dive in and start working, and try not to second guess
I was recently on a Swans kick and was revisiting a lot of your albums from
that time. How do you look back on your Swans days? Do you still like the releases
you put out there?
I don’t think about Swans much. I think much of it is excellent, and holds
up, but much is also misguided, a mistake. But I always tried (still do) to
put myself in new unfamiliar terrain, so that would sometimes work, and sometimes
not. Anyway, I’m more interested in the future… a waste to think about the
Is there any unreleased Swans material left in the archives that
may eventually see release?
There’s a few live things that sound fairly spectacular – maybe someday….
What bands or artists (visual and/or aural) today do you find inspire you?
Well, Fire On Fire (they are astounding good fun live) inspire me, and so
does Larkin, so I decided to work with them. Other than that, if you mean contemporary
rock-related music, I have to say that the most fun I’ve had listening to a
CD lately has been the entire catalog of the Detroit electronic group Adult.
They absolutely crack me up. I can’t get enough of it. I guess they remind
me of The Screamers (late 70’s LA electro punk pioneers), but actually better,
just an absolute bad hair sour hangover sonic assault. We played the same festival
in Scotland recently, and I met them and we got along, so we started to correspond
a bit. I’m actually thinking of asking them if they’d like to take the entire
We Are Him album and do it in their style. Ha ha!
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